The following is a summary of Georgia alimony laws, and is by no means intended to be an all-inclusive description of what to expect in your particular case. In some cases, the exact text of the statute may have been simplified and/or modified to provide for easier understanding. For a more specific understanding of the laws, you should consult the full Georgia Code and/or consult with an attorney about how the law might apply to your particular situation.

Jurisdiction.

In order for a court to decide custody of your children, whether by agreement of the spouses or by decision of the court, that court must have jurisdiction. Except as otherwise provided in Code Section 19-9-64, a court of the state of Georgia has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination only if:

  1. Georgia is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from the state of Georgia but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in the state of Georgia; ['Home state' means the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding. In the case of a child less than six months of age, the term means the state in which the child lived from birth with any of the persons mentioned. A period of temporary absence of any of the mentioned persons is part of the period.]
  2. A court of another state does not have jurisdiction under paragraph (1) of this subsection, or a court of the home state of the child has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that Georgia is the more appropriate forum under Code Section 19-9-67 or 19-9-68 and:
    1. The child and the child´s parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with Georgia other than mere physical presence; and
    2. Substantial evidence is available in Georgia concerning the child´s care, protection, training, and personal relationships.
  3. All courts having jurisdiction under paragraph (1) or (2) of this subsection have declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that a court of Georgia is the more appropriate forum to determine the custody of the child under Code Section 19-9-67 or 19-9-68; or
  4. No court of any other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria specified in paragraph (1), (2), or (3) of this subsection.

-From Sections 19-9-61 and 19-9-41 of the Georgia Code.

Please note: If you aren’t sure whether the state of Georgia would have jurisdiction over you or your child(ren), you should consult an attorney.

Definitions.

Georgia law recognizes the following definitions of custody:

  1. Joint custody” means joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or both joint legal custody and joint physical custody. In making an order for joint custody, the court may order joint legal custody without ordering joint physical custody.
  2. Joint legal custody” means both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child, including the child´s education, health care, and religious training; provided, however, that the court may designate one parent to have sole power to make certain decisions while both parents retain equal rights and responsibilities for other decisions.
  3. Joint physical custody” means that physical custody is shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of substantially equal time and contact with both parents.
  4. Sole custody” means a person, including, but not limited to, a parent, has been awarded permanent custody of a child by a court order. Unless otherwise provided by court order, the person awarded sole custody of a child shall have the rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child, including the child´s education, health care, and religious training, and the noncustodial parent shall have the right to visitation. A person who has not been awarded custody of a child by court order shall not be considered as the sole legal custodian while exercising visitation rights.

-From Section 19-9-6 of the Georgia Code

Factors in Determining Custody.

In all cases in which the custody of any child is at issue between the parents, there shall be no prima-facie right to the custody of the child in the father or mother. There shall be no presumption in favor of any particular form of custody, legal or physical, nor in favor of either parent. Joint custody may be considered as an alternative form of custody by the judge and the judge at any temporary or permanent hearing may grant sole custody, joint custody, joint legal custody, or joint physical custody as appropriate.

The judge hearing the issue of custody shall make a determination of custody of a child and such matter shall not be decided by a jury. The judge may take into consideration all the circumstances of the case, including the improvement of the health of the party seeking a change in custody provisions, in determining to whom custody of the child should be awarded. The duty of the judge in all such cases shall be to exercise discretion to look to and determine solely what is for the best interest of the child and what will best promote the child’s welfare and happiness and to make his or her award accordingly.

In determining the best interests of the child, the judge may consider any relevant factor including, but not limited to:

  1. The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child;
  2. The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and his or her siblings, half siblings, and stepsiblings and the residence of such other children;
  3. The capacity and disposition of each parent to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child;
  4. Each parent’s knowledge and familiarity of the child and the child’s needs;
  5. The capacity and disposition of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs, and other necessary basic care, with consideration made for the potential payment of child support by the other parent;
  6. The home environment of each parent considering the promotion of nurturance and safety of the child rather than superficial or material factors;
  7. The importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
  8. The stability of the family unit of each of the parents and the presence or absence of each parent’s support systems within the community to benefit the child;
  9. The mental and physical health of each parent;
  10. Each parent’s involvement, or lack thereof, in the child’s educational, social, and extracurricular activities;
  11. Each parent’s employment schedule and the related flexibility or limitations, if any, of a parent to care for the child;
  12. The home, school, and community record and history of the child, as well as any health or educational special needs of the child;
  13. Each parent’s past performance and relative abilities for future performance of parenting responsibilities;
  14. The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child;
  15. Any recommendation by a court appointed custody evaluator or guardian ad litem;
  16. Any evidence of family violence or sexual, mental, or physical child abuse or criminal history of either parent; and
  17. Any evidence of substance abuse by either parent.

In all cases in which the child has reached the age of 14 years, the child shall have the right to select the parent with whom he or she desires to live. The child´s selection shall be controlling, unless the parent so selected is determined not to be a fit and proper person to have the custody of the child.

In all cases in which the child has reached the age of at least 11 but not 14 years, the court shall consider the desires, if any, and educational needs of the child in determining which parent shall have custody. The court shall have complete discretion in making this determination, and the child´s desires are not controlling. The court shall further have broad discretion as to how the child´s desires are to be considered, including through the report of a guardian ad litem. The best interest of the child standard shall be controlling.
The desire of a child who has reached the age of 11 years but not 14 years shall not, in and of itself, constitute a material change of conditions or circumstances in any action seeking a modification or change in the custody of that child.

The court may issue an order granting temporary custody to the selected parent for a trial period not to exceed six months regarding the custody of a child who has reached the age of at least 11 years where the judge hearing the case determines such a temporary order is appropriate.

-From Section 19-9-3 of the Georgia Code.

 

This information has been summarized from the Georgia statutes. You can find the full-text version of these and other Georgia divorce statutes online here: Georgia Divorce Laws.

LEARN MORE ABOUT GENERAL CHILD CUSTODY LAWS.

GO TO ANOTHER DIVORCE ARTICLE.

 

IMPORTANT: Help Yourself Divorce is a paralegal service, not a law firm. Please don’t rely on this information for legal advice. Seek help from an attorney if you need legal advice.

 

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